If you are a frequent traveler? You may have heard of melatonin and its alleged effectiveness in fighting off jet lag. But what exactly is melatonin? And how does its sleep-promoting function work? Here is in-depth analysis to determine if melatonin lives up to the hype.
What is Melatonin?
Melatonin is a hormone, synthesized in the body from the amino acid tryptophan. Melatonin controls circadian rhythms, or the body’s internal day-night clock. Melatonin production starts at night, when the body sleeps, and drops off once you awake. In this way the biological clock is synchronized to environmental cues. It is also an antioxidant and interacts with the immune system. But, further studies are needed to clarify its role.
Melatonin is also a supplement and is often used for sleep disorders, such as insomnia and jet lag. The hormone is also thought to treat sunburn and other problems. But, more research is needed before recommendations can be made in these areas.
What is Jet Lag?
If you’ve ever traveled through several time zones, you may have experienced jet lag. The temporary sleep disorder causes sleep and wakefulness to be out of sync. Jet lag is more prominent in travelers who rapidly travel across more than three time zones.
Eastward travel is associated with difficulty sleeping at the destination and problems waking up. Westward travel has the opposite effect: early evening drowsiness and premature awakening. Each individual adapts differently to traveling across many time zones. But, but increased age may contribute to longer recovery periods. Jet lag may also cause fatigue, headache, irritability or gastrointestinal disturbances.
Is Melatonin Right For Travel?
The body adjusts itself through a day-night cycle and the secretion of melatonin. Researchers have studied melatonin’s use to acclimate travelers to their destination’s time zone. Initial research suggests it could promote sleep by creating nighttime responses in the body. Prior studies have attempted to discover whether melatonin helps with jet lag.
Some research suggests melatonin supplements may be helpful in treating travel-induced sleep disorders. A 2002 study found melatonin decreased jet lag from flights crossing five or more time zones. Small doses of melatonin were effective in promoting better sleep if taken before bed. The study concluded that melatonin might be helpful in reducing jet lag.
A 2005 analysis showed melatonin increases sleep efficiency and total sleep duration. But, by only about 13 minutes. Other studies have shown mixed results.
There is no recommended dose for melatonin supplements. Some clinicians suggest small doses, like what the body already produces. Take the supplement one hour before the time you wish to fall asleep. Melatonin supplements aren’t regulated by the FDA, and most doctors do not prescribe it.
If you suffer from jet lag, then low doses of melatonin may be helpful in promoting better sleep. Check with your healthcare provider before taking melatonin. The hormone is not recommended for pregnant women or those with certain health conditions. Choose synthetic melatonin supplements over animal-derived ones, which may have contaminants. Melatonin is recommended only for short-term use – up to two months. Melatonin side effects may include daytime sleepiness, headaches, or dizziness.
What Myths Surrond Melatonin?
There are some myths associated with melatonin use. Many people think melatonin is a natural sleeping pill, which is wrong. Melatonin on its own won’t induce sleep. Melatonin is more of a “darkness” signaler, telling the brain it is time to prepare for sleep. Also, melatonin cannot be taken at any time. If used during the day, it can cause mixed signals in the body, further disrupting sleep later on. Furthermore, the dosage amount is important. Most commercially sold pills have 20-50 times the recommended amount of melatonin. Break up the pill into fourths, or try to find the smallest pill size available.
Taking melatonin can be tricky, but can be beneficial in promoting sleep. Melatonin is a natural, essential nighttime hormone. Melatonin supplements in can be helpful in resetting your internal clock when you travel. Make sure to talk to your healthcare provider before taking melatonin. Are you preparing to travel?
Are you planning a long distance trip? Sleep isn’t the only thing you may have to worry about. Schedule a visit with a Passport Health travel specialist to learn about what you may need before you go.
Have you used melatonin in the past? What was your experience with it? Let us know in the comments section below!
"Melatonin: Should it be Part of Your Travel Kit? is republished with permission of Passport Health."
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